Comments: Interviews for diocesan bishops

Am I right in thinking that there are fun and games with some diocesan processes because vacancy in see committees include General Synod members - and there aren't any GS members at the moment?

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=david rowett) at Tuesday, 5 October 2010 at 4:01pm BST


GS members retain their ex officio membership of other bodies until the new synod is inaugurated, so the problem is not as bad as you suggest. But the Bradford meetings were brought forward to avoid this sort of problem.

Posted by Peter Owen at Tuesday, 5 October 2010 at 6:50pm BST

Despite the recommendation of the whole approach to senior appointments by General Synod, one has to wonder whether anyone but the very ambitious will ever be appointed to high office in the Church of England again. Would Mervyn Stockwood have been appointed if this system had pertained at the time; or even Michael Ramsey? If we are going down this path why don't we go the whole hogg and elect our diocesan bishops, as is done in other parts of the Anglican Communion? What's so wrong with that?

Posted by Richard Franklin at Tuesday, 5 October 2010 at 6:50pm BST

Nothing wrong with it at all. I think it would be a very good idea.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Tuesday, 5 October 2010 at 7:19pm BST

Richard Franklin has a very good point. Makes you think would we have had Mervyn Stockwood and Michael Ramsey ? Seems unthinkable not to have had them --each in his own special and inimitable way.

Am I just naive in hating the idea of ambitious ministers ? And ideas of so-called 'high offfice' ? Surely our only 'ambition' should be for some kind of holiness in loving and living within our own uniqueness and creativity, loving and receiving others as Christ does.

High office -- look out for the most modest and overlooked, the most generous spirited, ones in all the churches and neighbourhoods. (Janitors, deaconesses, those hidden behind the pillars--whatever, whoever... ).

Bishop is just a form of church government, that's all. And it does not seem to fit our century. So Back to some unlikely cenacle above a pub or launderette perhaps ...

Maybe elections is just what we need.

Forward to Bonhoeffer ......... ?

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Tuesday, 5 October 2010 at 8:53pm BST

A few years ago - 1986, in fact, Lord Longford wrote a book entitled - The Bishops - A Study of Leaders in the Church Today. The then Anglican bench was full of colourful characters - like, Runcie, Habgood, Leonard, Sheppard, Montifiore and Jenkins - to name but a few. I would think it would be very difficult to write a similar book on today's bench of indistinguishable clones. The present lot look very monochrome to me. Although, not personally in favour, maybe a smattering of women bishops might well add a little fizz and colour to a very dull bunch.

Posted by Father David at Wednesday, 6 October 2010 at 6:08am BST

Bishops always were appointed, of course. It is difficult to know whether the Holy Spirit can work better through a democratic process. Has any study been done that shows that elected bishops are better than appointed ones? If the present English Bench is more monochrome than previous ones, perhaps it is precisely because the system of appointment has been opened up.

Posted by Terence Dear at Wednesday, 6 October 2010 at 9:30am BST

Certainly it will tend to exclude those who simply do not like putting themselves forward and indicates a change of ecclesiastical culture not everyone will feel comfortable with. Whether the results are better, I suppose, only time will tell. I hope however there will be an archiepiscopal and ,indeed prime ministerial ,"encourager* who might bring able but humble types to the notice of the appointments commission.

Posted by Perry Butler at Wednesday, 6 October 2010 at 11:16am BST

"Bishops always were appointed, of course"

I suppose they weren't in the Early Church?

Posted by Fr Mark at Wednesday, 6 October 2010 at 2:50pm BST

It is always healthy for lay persons to play a key role in a democratically elected bishop. The fact that the Church of England "appoints" rather than seeks active participation by lay people in the selection of candidates for bishops is something that needs to be addressed. It is always better for lay people in a given diocese to have a major role in selecting and ELECTING their own bishops. We need to change many things in Roman, Anglican and Orthodox methods of selecting and electing bishops. The old ways are just not working.

Posted by Chris Smith at Wednesday, 6 October 2010 at 4:56pm BST

I don't think they had bishops in the early church --elected or otherwise.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Wednesday, 6 October 2010 at 10:09pm BST

My understanding is that the Scriptural evidence points to terms which simply meant overseer and elder - much like the synagogue system of the time. Indeed, according to one RC priest I've read, there were churches directed, in the pastoral epistles, to choose the episkopos, the overseer for themselves. There wasn't an order from Jerusalem, Paul, Peter or the Emperor as to who that was to be.

In the end, however, I believe looking to ancient ways and means is a mistake. Democratic methods of governance were known - to an extent - but were also known to have fallen to an autocratic system. Humankind has always had a pragmatism, whether conscious or subconscious, as to what style of civilization is the "best." The winner, in short, is the way to go. Greece was beaten by Rome, Rome had an emperor and ruled from a central capital, so that's the way to go. They might decry Rome, but they would still model themselves on it. It's still an active principal - look at Europe and Asia, in which creeping "Americanism" and American-style consumerism is roundly (and rightly, I think, as an American) criticized - yet U. S. brand names, fashion styles, business models, and societal interactions are greatly influential. While the U. S. aggressively markets, it would not continue to do so unless people were buying.

There's nothing particularly attractive about our culture as opposed to others, so it must be the pull of the image of victor, this time through wealth and its concommitant influence. In the same way, the early church fathers decried Rome, but built their church model on the same top-down lines. There's remarkably little about actual church structure or canons in scripture, so it is a mistake to say "This is the way it was supposed to be because this is what the early church did." They structured a reflection of their dominant society.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 7 October 2010 at 8:21am BST

Laurence: there were bishops in the Early Church, of course! Being devoted to patristics as we Anglicans all not doubt are, I'm sure this was a slip of the keyboard.

Perhaps you were wondering about the earlier stage, that of the Apostolic Church?

My suggestion was that the monarchical and top-down appointed episcopate was not the early model, and that perhaps now we should re-examine it.

Posted by Fr Mark at Thursday, 7 October 2010 at 8:47am BST

In New Zealand, any synod member may put forward a nomination for the new bishop of a diocese. The nominatiion has to be seconded by another member. Provided the nominated person agrees to be put up for the task, their name then has to be accepted by the official Nominators as a possibility. Cndidates are then interviewed individually to assess their particular gifts, and to ensure that they are willing to serve as a bishop in the Church. If the response is positive, then votes are taken in Diocesan Electoral Synod.

The leading contender's name is then circulated to the Standing Committee of each of the dioceses of the Province for a majority approval.

The new Bishop's name is then announced. Simple!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 7 October 2010 at 10:10am BST

To return to the matter of the appointments process, the reason I flagged this up is that there may be very good candidates around who are simply not willing to go through the elaborate process of selection now in place. Why should someone content in their present job want to put themselves through it? It's not just a matter of someone bringing "able but humble types to the notice of the appointments commission" as Perry Butler put it, they have to be willing to put their heads on the block, to fill up long forms, make 'presentations' and now be interviewed. And at the end of it all perhaps not be selected. Having said all that the process described by Father Ron Smith does sound better because at least anyone could be put forward.

Posted by Richard Franklin at Thursday, 7 October 2010 at 1:00pm BST

Ambrose of Milan was made bishop by the acclamation of the people. I can't think of a single bishop in the Church of England who would stand a snowball's chance in hell of attaining office by this means.

Posted by junius at Thursday, 7 October 2010 at 5:28pm BST

Yes, Mark I was thinking, along the lines, that Jesus didn't found a religious body - with or without bishops.

Would nt you say ?

So I don't think we have to been tied down to current practices at all. I realise anglicans probably will as episcopacy has been fetishized increasingly since the innovations of the Oxfor Movement.

But I think episcopacy has failed us. The priamtes of the anglican communion and other bishops ahve behaved in the most appalling way.

I can just see the Church Times entry 100 years from now, in their column that looks back at the antics 100 years back. Our successors will be appalled by the homophobia of the bishops, just as we today, have to smile as they remind us of our crazy past.

Just imagine ! -- what form would church take, say, in the aftermath of an environmental or nuclear catastrophe, where all life would need to go back to basics ?

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Thursday, 7 October 2010 at 11:26pm BST

"Just imagine ! -- what form would church take, say, in the aftermath of an environmental or nuclear catastrophe, where all life would need to go back to basics ?"

Don't have to - I've read _A Canticle for Leibowitz_. (We keep the bishops, by the way, and send them into outer space...)

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Friday, 8 October 2010 at 3:30pm BST

Yes, Laurence, of course I basically agree with you: I cannot see how encouraging self-important people in purple shirts to be yet more pompous has anything to do with Jesus.

Did the rot set in with the Oxford Movement, though, I wonder? I think bishops in England were principally offshoots of the ruling class certainly since the Norman invasion, when they became a useful arm of the new order. The interesting thing is, that the bishops were basically scions of the aristocracy, whose values they reflected, until the late 18th c, then became more upper middle class in the 19th c, and haven't yet understood the need to reflect more ordinary middle class English people in our own time, as other institutions have done. Their handling of the women and gay issues are key indicators of how out of touch they are with average intelligent middle class people in England. In that respect, there is something very ancien regime about the C of E's bishops, seen as a group: they are quite sure that they must be in essence very important and grand and should be in charge as a special caste or club, and are consequently quite disconnected from the church of the ordinary outside the gate.

I think all these endless bishops-only meetings (recent innovations) have done a lot to create the sense of clubbiness amongst them. Victorian bishops were not like that. They hardly ever came together as a group, and clung tenaciously to their privileges within their individual dioceses, which made them rather stronger characters than this current feebly unethical crew of crawlers and timeservers desparate to keep their heads below the parapet on any controversial issue. Risk avoidance is not the right recipe for an institution showing all the signs of terminal decline.

Posted by Fr Mark at Friday, 8 October 2010 at 9:26pm BST

Sorry for intervening, Father Ron, but if you're talking about the NZ church, I think the procedure is that it is the members of General Synod, either in session or by mail, who have to give their consent.

Another important thing is that the whole process in NZ (and in Scotland, where bishops are chosen by diocesan synod) is confidential up until the poll is confirmed. The current bishop of Christchurch's election was leaked (reportedly by pro-Sydney types) and +Victoria did not comment, of course.

For the same reasons put forward here, though, I cannot commend the American-style electoral process for bishops. With few exceptions, the bench in the US has become as monochrome as the CofE--and I think Fr Mark's words apply as much to America. (Fr. Dan Martins' election and the way some liberals are reacting confirms my belief.)

Posted by Ren Aguila at Saturday, 9 October 2010 at 3:19am BST

Thanks for that Mark. I think there is much in what you say.

Leaves me with a sense that it is not a history to take much pride in.

I suppose that means, back to the sermon on the mount and to the seed growing secretly ? And Bonhoeffer in word and deed; and the novels of Marilynne Robinson and Niall Williams.

And yet, John V Taylor, Michael Ramsey, Trevor Huddleston were outstanding. Now there, I have cheered myself a bit.

The Churches in this process of being stripped down, of transition towards what ? Becoming leaner as we lose all the trappings and become less cluttered, and a stripped down theology - all coming spare and could help someone , sometimes ...

There's a long, long way to go yet ....

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Monday, 11 October 2010 at 1:11am BST
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